Three traits are frequently ascribed to what makes us, what defines us, as humans - bipedilism, language, and tool making1. In fact Homo habilis, the earliest ancestor of the modern human, literally means "handy man" and was one of the first to use primitive tools2. The earliest humans were Makers! Tool making led us down a path of creativity and innovation that resulted in the modern society of technology and the modern Maker. We have always been Makers; humans have always made things. In the words of Mark Hatch, "Making is fundamental to what it means to be human."3
Today, modern making encompasses a wide variety of tools, crafts, and skills that is ever growing. The movement is constantly evolving to include, or in some cases exclude, depending on what "making" is defined as. What is making? Ask that question and you will get a different answer with each new person. That is because making is personal, something that is defined by the experiences of that person. You may even get a new answer from the same person a week later! People, and the definition of making, is - and should be - dynamic. I don't see "making" and the Maker Movement as exclusive with a set of criteria and checklist that has to be met. We are all Makers, we all "make".
Making in the Classroom
The modern-day classroom and the role of a teacher are going through their own revolution. The old-school ‘one size fits all’ methodology in which teachers impart knowledge to students through teacher-led activities is outdated. The best preparation programs train teachers to use alternative methods that promote student agency and collaboration by transforming the role of teachers to one of a facilitator, allowing students to become the source of knowledge through the use of technology and inquiry-based learning.
Making provides students the opportunity to learn in a meaningful way. I frequently hear students ask these questions: "Why are we doing this?", "How am I going to use this?", "Am I doing this right?". Maker Education provides those answers for students. When students are making something, they are learning in a hands-on way that builds important skills - collaboration, design thinking, problem solving - in a way that is valuable and personal to them. It is also obviously more engaging to incorporate Maker-centered activities. Ask a student if they would rather solve physics problems on conservation of momentum and energy or make a trebuchet that applies those principles. I can guarantee what they will respond. There is also no wrong way to make. If the intended product does not work, or is not what was expected, that does not mean the student failed or did something wrong. It's actually the opposite; it provides them the opportunity to learn and grow, to experience productive failure.
Equity in STEM Education
STEM has historically been, and in many ways continues to be, predominately white, western, and male dominated4. As a science educator, it is necessary that I incorporate a multicultural perspective that includes the contributions of historically non-dominant communities, especially when many of these groups are reflected in my own students' identities. Making in STEM classrooms can promote a "rightful presence" in which the classroom community welcomes and values the personal culture and experiences of each community member (i.e. the students)5. The same is said for a Maker community, which not only finds value in, but in fact promotes the blending of culture, creation, and learning. A Maker community also thrives on sharing these experiences with others. These ideas lie at the heart of Vygotsky's sociocultural theory, a perspective on the way in which students learn. Vygotsky promotes shared, student-centered experiences that are scaffolded to support all students knowledge building and development of complex skills6. STEM education should be similarly collaborative; the contributions and knowledge of others continually build upon the ideas and work of those before.
Many of the guiding principles of a Maker mindset and Making education are the same as those that should govern a STEM classroom (really any classroom). Making is collaborative, thrives in community, engages students of all backgrounds, and teaches important life skills.
Anyone can Make. Every student should Make.
- 1Herrero, H. (2022, May 20). What Makes Us Human? National Geographic. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/what-makes-us-human
- 2Pobiner, B. (2016, Feb 23). The First Butchers. SAPIENS. https://www.sapiens.org/biology/homo-sapiens-and-tool-making/
- 3Hatch, M. (2013). The Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers (1st ed.). McGraw Hill.
- 4Pew Research Center. (2018, January). Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/01/09/women-and-men-in-stem-often-at-odds-over-workplace-equity/
- 5Calabrese Barton, A., & Tan, E. (2019). Designing for Rightful Presence in STEM: The Role of Making Present Practices. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 28(4–5), 616–658. https://doi.org/10.1080/10508406.2019.1591411
- 6Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes (M. Cole, V. Jolm-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.). Harvard University Press.https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvjf9vz4